Darkness intrudes like a predator's shadow cast on a fairy-tale kingdom. The little boy in "Mood #7" captured in profile echoes the vulnerable young boy in Barry Jenkins' film "Moonlight," his small shirtless body looking remarkably vulnerable against a textured green backdrop.
In “Mood #11,” a girl in a blue dress with a prim lace collar is caught in a beam of light, her face in darkness on one side and in light on the other, splitting her into two people, one of whom could easily be white. How random and inconsequential the color of our skin is — the image suggests — and yet how absurdly, perilously important and weighty in the real world.
While van Empel is indebted to modern technology, Matthew Brandt looks backward, to photography's analog origins and the 19th-century albumen printing process, albeit while still questioning the truth and purity that photography promises viewers. Brandt has taken Atlanta as his project in "1864" fixating on two clichés of the South: the peach and the Civil War.
Photographer Matthew Brandt’s “Peaches” appears in “Matthew Brandt: 1864” at Buckhead’s Jackson Fine Art.
For his lovely peach still-life images, Brandt sources Styrofoam replicas made in China, lending an air of artifice to this Southern touchstone. Brandt’s peach studies are the most satisfying in “1864” for creating a simulation of the thing itself and subverting the tradition of the still life in that blatant fakery. Perhaps, Brandt’s peaches tease, our vision of the South is just as manufactured.
Brandt's photographs of Atlanta, meanwhile, are riffs on photographer George N. Barnard's 19th-century images of a devastated Atlanta post-Sherman. Brandt has gone back to those source images housed at the Library of Congress and printed new photographs from Barnard's images, while also incorporating the ingredients for peach pie — cinnamon, sugar, salt, butter, flour and peaches — into the albumen photo developing process. It is a continuation of Brandt's fascinating incorporation into the developing process, of some physical trace of his subjects: the actual source water in his portraits of "Lakes and Reservoirs" or the tears of his subjects incorporated into their portraits.
Though the works themselves are often striking, delicate and ephemeral like a sketch made in dust that could be blown away with a sigh, the conceit of the work is conceptually overloaded, a complex exercise in revisiting the past and Southern clichés that may not yield the vivid results or insight into the region all of that manipulation promises.
“Matthew Brandt: 1864,” “Ruud Van Empel: Portraits”
Through July 1. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. Jackson Fine Art, 3115 E. Shadowlawn Ave., Atlanta. 404-233-3739, www.jacksonfineart.com.
Bottom line: Two artists tackle photographic manipulation in Ruud van Empel's tender, socially resonant work and in Matthew Brandt's historically minded, conceptual work.
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